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Pondering a touring bike rental business

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Pondering a touring bike rental business

Old 09-26-23, 12:20 AM
  #1  
abdon 
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Pondering a touring bike rental business

I'm retiring in about 10 years. I have always monetized my hobbies in one way or another so looking at a growing herd of vintage touring bikes I'm wondering if renting them out and related touring services would be enjoyable. These are the main sticking points I'm looking at:
  1. I'm in Alaska, that helps on both touring destinations, and the fact that most would have to fly out here to tour.
  2. I'm in Alaska, there is nothing stopping me (regulation-wise) from hanging a shingle in my driveway and opening a business. We believe in the whole live and let live bit.
  3. Notice how I said "enjoyable" and not profitable. Profit is obviously a motive but not an existential need. Well it would make existing more enjoyable but not at the cost of enjoyment of life. Our touring season is very short, about 5 months tops; this would make it an ideal hobby/business you don't want taking over your life.
Has anybody out here toyed with this? I'm hoping that there is (or will be) a listing service like Turo (for cars) or outdoorsy (for campers) or Rover (for dog sitting) that would facilitate the important bit of liability insurance, something that can get ugly expensive if done on your own as a small business but affordable when a company works out the economy of scale. That leaves most of the year for refitting bikes and building wheels in the winter time.

Comments welcome.

Last edited by abdon; 09-26-23 at 12:51 AM.
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Old 09-26-23, 08:46 AM
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Is your idea just to rent a bike or to provide a more complete bike touring service. I can see a need for more than just a bike. People may need panniers, possibly tents and sleeping bags, along with other gear. People might also want routing and safety advice. What kinds of contingencies are you willing to provide (i.e. pick if people have to abandon their tours, food drops/deliveries)?

My fantasy business is setting up a battery exchange network so that people can fly with a battery-less e-bike and then rent one from the network, without having to do a loop ride. That is, pick up a battery in one city and drop it off in another city. Also, if needed, they could exchange one during the day.

There are so many things that could happen to people renting your bicycles that you have to be prepared for what might be required from you. Giving someone a bike in exchange for some cash is the least of it.
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Old 09-26-23, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by raybo

There are so many things that could happen to people renting your bicycles that you have to be prepared for what might be required from you. Giving someone a bike in exchange for some cash is the least of it.
That was one of my first thoughts.

I also thought that anyone with the brio to tour in Alaska is probably going to want to bring their own bike. (Query related to the first line: Do you want to provide a vehicle for the inexperienced tourer to head out into a relatively remote setting?) And if you donít provide racks and bags, there could be compatibility issues.

Current demographics are such that people are looking for more support and comfort, especially when it comes to logistics.
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Old 09-26-23, 10:25 AM
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Keep in mind that touring means different things to different people. While some may indeed want the hard core experience I imagine most would be happy with shorter trips and even semi suorted trips with a drop off and/or pickup.

There are quite a few outfits renting bikes here, most are hybrids with fat tires and now ebikes. Those are fine enough to enjoy the moose loop in anchorage but if you want to feel the joy of the open road there isn't much we would recognize as an ideal bike. If you want a proper road bike or a tourer forget about it. If you want the ability to rent the equipment as well, forget about it. If you want the bike fitted beyond small/medium/large, forget about it. I would want to fit in the niche where if somebody wants to ride out to Talkeetna (76m) to take the sights, overnight, and get picked up the next day, I can fit that niche with something better than a hybrid. Or support a touring trip to cache creek gold mining cabins (116 miles, depending on start) where in the way you get amazing views of Mt. Denali, have a few baby river crossings to tell about (they can be driven over by truck), and stay at the end on the cabin and rent gold mining equipment so you can finally get a good workout There are some truly amazing one to three day trips that would be all the more enjoyable with a proper bike.

I would keep a small stable of well maintained bikes, most vintage on modern drivetrains and wheelsets. Most with downtube shifters as it would simplify the hardware and would let me throw just about any wheelset under the frame. Equipment could be rented. Pick up and drop offs could be reserved. Honestly the biggest stumbling block is the liability insurance which is why I'm hoping that there is a service for that just like there is for everything else where you can list and pay into their insurance service.
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Old 09-26-23, 11:25 AM
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If you ran a guided touring business, where you provide the bikes, a guide or two, van with luggage hauling from inn to inn, etc., there are such businesses already. I did two different week long trips that way, they provided the bike, I had to provide my own helmet. They allowed you to bring your own saddle and pedals, I took advantage of that.

But such businesses can take advantage of depreciation of the costs for new equipment, etc., Thus, there are tax advantages to being able to write down the costs for new bikes every few years, etc.

And the obvious point, you need to be where tourists might want to go in sufficient number that you can have a thriving business.

I started a week and a half long backpacking trip about four weeks ago. Started it off with a 35 mile shuttle ride from a parking lot where I left my vehicle to where I started my backpacking hike. Shuttle was $110, total distance driven by the service was about 70 miles, a bit over one hour driving time for the driver since it was all on highways. There can be some money in supporting a variety of tourism activities.
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Old 09-26-23, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN
If you ran a guided touring business, where you provide the bikes, a guide or two, van with luggage hauling from inn to inn, etc., there are such businesses already. I did two different week long trips that way, they provided the bike, I had to provide my own helmet. They allowed you to bring your own saddle and pedals, I took advantage of that.

But such businesses can take advantage of depreciation of the costs for new equipment, etc., Thus, there are tax advantages to being able to write down the costs for new bikes every few years, etc.

And the obvious point, you need to be where tourists might want to go in sufficient number that you can have a thriving business.

I started a week and a half long backpacking trip about four weeks ago. Started it off with a 35 mile shuttle ride from a parking lot where I left my vehicle to where I started my backpacking hike. Shuttle was $110, total distance driven by the service was about 70 miles, a bit over one hour driving time for the driver since it was all on highways. There can be some money in supporting a variety of tourism activities.
I would be too small an outfit (one man shop) to do much guiding. Then again as a one man shop I would be catering to the specific crowd that are after better equipment and mostly pick up and drop off services.

Heck I have something better than equipment depreciation, a negligible overhead As I said, here in Alaska there are no regulatory hurdles to run a business from home. I have the infrastructure where keeping and maintaining a small herd of touring bikes would not be a cluster. The fact that the season is short, about 5 months, means I have the rest of the year to schedule overhauling and servicing whatever needs so.
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Old 09-26-23, 01:58 PM
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Well, you are proposing far more than what you did in the OP.
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Old 09-26-23, 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz
Well, you are proposing far more than what you did in the OP.
Am I? I did say "renting them out and related touring services".

Alaska is a big place, pickup and drop off would enable folks to put more interesting miles under the tires. I specifically said that I could not get into guided touring as that would require more time/effort/resources I could devote to this.

Most outfits I see are either "here, bike, go" or fully guided touring. I'm thinking that there is a niche in the middle of that. Specially because their bikes are either e-bikes, hybrids, or mountain bikes.
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Old 09-26-23, 06:50 PM
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I'm thinking this may be like being a bicycle dealer. The way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune.

Which may be OK with you. But you'll still have to procure a stock of bikes in different sizes, of whatever type(s) you choose, and probably two or three of the more popular sizes. I'm not sure how you'll deal with shuttling riders and bikes. Those are two of the time/effort/resources that you say you can't devote to the business. So what do you think is left?
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Old 09-26-23, 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by abdon
Am I? I did say "renting them out and related touring services".
Unspecified/vague at the time I initially responded. Shame on me for doing so without knowing important details.

Last edited by indyfabz; 09-26-23 at 07:38 PM.
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Old 09-26-23, 07:55 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb
I'm thinking this may be like being a bicycle dealer. The way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune.

Which may be OK with you. But you'll still have to procure a stock of bikes in different sizes, of whatever type(s) you choose, and probably two or three of the more popular sizes. I'm not sure how you'll deal with shuttling riders and bikes. Those are two of the time/effort/resources that you say you can't devote to the business. So what do you think is left?
As it is I have a small cadre of bikes I could outfit for this. I'm a few years until retirement acquiring bikes has not been a problem in the past so I could add to it just from my budget cash flow.

At the scale I'm looking at (downright tiny) of a few rentals a week during the short touring season, it should not be much of a stretch to squeeze a few drop off/pick ups here and there should not be much of a stretch.

The number one thing I'm concerned about is liability insurance. That's why I'm hoping there is a gig economy marketplace where I can list. Primarily that would give me access to insurance coverage at a reasonable rate. Nowadays you can rent out a room (Airbnb), camper (outdoorsy), or car (turo) with the respective service offering liability coverage.

And it it doesn't work, well I just sell the bikes that are not my size
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Old 09-26-23, 10:18 PM
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Non E bikes rentals are becoming rarer these days. They usually exist in larger cities for short hops. I recommend E-bikes as your major stock
I would say depreciation is one of your biggest challenges. A good e-bike today is considered out of date in a couple of years. The next is marketability. Related touring services these days means a lot more than pick up service. Gone are the days of hanging a sign with 'Joe's Bike Rental'. The digital market is by far the most efficient way for a business to survive. A comprehensive website is essential and in most cases pampering will make a huge difference. Even as a one man shop, you could partner with other tourist based businesses to offer complete packages. Fishing, Glamping, etc. This will involve a lot more leg work than just purchasing/maintaining bikes.
Of course, this would be if you want to turn a profit. It can be a sizable investment to hope for walk-in customers.

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Old 09-26-23, 11:04 PM
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I find it hard to believe that there would be no niche between the $5k supported touring trip and the "here's your crappy bike, have a nice day" extremes.
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Old 09-27-23, 07:56 AM
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I wonder if you are thinking about what you want to provide versus what clients might want to buy? You see an opening in the market between high-end outfitters and simple bike rentals. Why is that? Have people not seen the opportunity you are or is there no demand for such services? How might you discover if the niche you want to fill is worth filling? Maybe contact the two ends of the current supply and talk to them about the kinds of requests they get and if there are any they can't fulfill that your idea would.

I often wonder when I tour in beautiful places why people don't create businesses that allow people willing to ride a bike to do so with a minimum of effort. For example, despite all the fear, riding a bike on the Amalfi Coast in Italy is a great day. Yet, I don't see any company providing a service that allows people to rent a bike, get a ride to the start, and then provide a way to return the people and the bike at the end of the ride. Maybe such a service is not feasible. In the same way, are there "must do" tours in your area that you might take advantage of? If all you want to do is rent bikes, you can still offer things like transportation services by partnering with a taxi/uber/limousine company. The same might be true of places to stay or resupply.

In addition, how are you going to market your service? How do the other bike service companies market their services? Is there a low-cost way for you to test the market without making an investment in things like marketing, licensing, insurance, business cards, etc? Have you ever run a business before?

New businesses fail for all kinds of reasons. Doing as much testing before starting goes a long way to avoid many of the pitfalls.
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Old 09-27-23, 08:25 AM
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This would want to be a 'soup to nuts' business. What you are advertising to us folks in the lower 48 is the ability to get on a plane, fly to Anchorage, get to the shop, pick up an appropriatley sized touring bike, complete with panniers, sleeping bag and pad, tent, cook gear - I.E. stove and pots, food choices to be made, etc..... Including route options that detail distances and places to camp. In other words, you are essentially an outfitter for everything needed. You tell the clients what clothing to bring, including cycling specific shorts, jerseys, gloves, helmet (maybe you provide that). You provide and rent/sell everything else. You would be buying a fleet of touring capable bikes in assorted sizes plus all the needed touring gear.

Just providing bikes assumes the client has all the required panniers and gear and is flying in with that stuff. Yes, they avoid having to ship/fly their own bike, but if I owned all the gear to do a bike tour I would own a bike first and foremost and would prefer to use what I know works for me, so would pay to have that sent to Alaska, thus would not desire to rent locally.

My $.02
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Old 09-27-23, 11:09 AM
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ChatGPT feels there may be some merit to your idea!

"Your initial concept of offering vintage touring bikes as a standalone service appears to target a very specific niche within the broader cycling tourism market. In exploring this concept further, it's important to recognize both its unique qualities and the challenges it may present.

Firstly, the notion of providing vintage touring bikes distinguishes your business from existing players within the cycling tourism industry. As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, I am not aware of any companies that have ventured into precisely this area. This indicates an opportunity to carve out a distinctive position in the market.

However, it's vital to acknowledge that the vintage component inherently limits the potential customer base. The majority of individuals interested in renting bicycles for touring purposes tend to prefer modern bikes, primarily due to their enhanced performance and functionality. Therefore, your business model should take into account that vintage bikes may only appeal to a subset of cycling enthusiasts.

To address these challenges and capitalize on the uniqueness of your offering, you may want to consider several strategies:

Market Research: Conduct in-depth market research to identify regions or locations with a strong cycling tourism market where the vintage aspect of your bikes could be a unique selling point. Targeting areas with a rich cultural or historical backdrop could be particularly effective.

Diversification: While your core offering may revolve around vintage touring bikes, consider diversifying your fleet to include a range of modern bicycles. This would allow you to cater to a broader customer base and provide options for those who may prefer modern bikes for certain routes or activities.

Educational Initiatives: To expand your customer base, implement educational initiatives that highlight the historical significance and charm of vintage bikes. This could include guided tours or workshops that showcase the unique experience they offer.

Collaborations: Explore collaborations with local tourism agencies, hotels, or travel companies to promote your vintage bike rentals as part of a broader tourism package. This can help attract tourists looking for a unique and memorable experience.

Online Presence: Establish a strong online presence through a professional website and active social media accounts. Share engaging content that showcases the allure of vintage biking and the scenic routes customers can explore using your services.

Customer Feedback: Continuously collect and analyze customer feedback to make improvements and adjustments to your service offering. Adaptability is key in responding to evolving market preferences.

In summary, while the concept of offering vintage touring bikes may be niche, it holds the potential to differentiate your business in the cycling tourism market. By combining this uniqueness with strategic diversification and marketing efforts, you can work toward building a successful and sustainable venture in this specialized niche."
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Old 09-27-23, 03:51 PM
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Oh and as BTW, I think the idea has merit, capitalizing may be an issue. The bike fleet will be expensive.
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Old 09-28-23, 12:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Steve B.
Oh and as BTW, I think the idea has merit, capitalizing may be an issue. The bike fleet will be expensive.
Not really... I'm already a healthy fraction of the way there. I'm not retiring for a while and I enjoy refurbishing vintage touring bikes. If I stop releasing them back into the wild I would be there in no time :-\

I do have a long tradition of monetizing my hobbies. If it doesn't work I would slowly sell them away. At least the ones that are not my size
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Old 09-28-23, 06:14 AM
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Originally Posted by abdon
I find it hard to believe that there would be no niche between the $5k supported touring trip and the "here's your crappy bike, have a nice day" extremes.
I agree there should be a market here, it doesn't need to be large. The trick is figuring out how to reach it and how to handle logistics like insurance. A few offbeat thoughts:

1. Is there a partnership possibility here? You work with a partner that does the front-end with customers (e.g. guiding, shuttling) and more importantly also has the client insurance/liability side while you provide the back-end bicycles/repair?

2. There is an dilemma here where you want someone who is enough of a bike snob that they appreciate a good bike but not enough of a snob that they want only their bike and are willing to bring it. You want a long enough trip that a better bike matters (e.g. I might be willing to rent a crappy bike for a few hour ride but appreciate it if the ride is longer) but short enough that they aren't bringing their own.

3. Is there a market with people temporarily stationed/working/studying in Alaska during the summer as opposed to tourists? i.e. rather than buy/resell they rent your bike during their stay? What is the best way to reach these folks?

4. To me the word "vintage" by itself doesn't convey quality as much as "old". Need to figure wording to reach the semi-snobs.

5. If not partnering with someone for other services, then I do think an advantage you have over others is an ability to be "custom". Not always a guided tour but (a) knowledge of the area including some sample routes or ideas (b) add-on service like a shuttle or drop off (c) adjacent equipment like camping gear or local knowledge on how to best arrange these things. I think you can have a core of "bicycle rental" but somehow want to advertise with those strengths of adjacent things as well (d) touring bikes with racks, pannier rentals etc.

Last edited by mev; 09-28-23 at 06:21 AM.
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Old 09-28-23, 10:30 AM
  #20  
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Mev;

I have been taking into consideration a lot of these angles. I just don't want to turn this into walls and walls of text. I figure hearing others would help me avoid being too myopic about the whole thing.

This is the thing: I think I can afford to niche the living $h!t out of my approach because this would be meant to be a tiny hobby business. Just like hobby farms; you can make quite a bit of money as long as you don't expect it to make enough money to be self sustaining. My retirement will be (knock on wood) well funded, this would be to both generate fun money and to be fun.

So my target audience is not the hard core tourer that is riding through Canada in order to get to Alaska. My target audience is the tourer that is just vacationing to Alaska without a bike and realizes that he can rent a Miyata 1000 or Trek 720, or a Specialized Expedition, for a day or 3. Maybe all they can squeeze in is a day ride to the glacier and back, maybe a century ride, maybe a few days credit card touring or camping. I can provide the equipment.

And yes, as you pre map routes for people you do partner with other outfits. Down in the peninsula there are some fantastic Class IV guided white water rafting, Halibut fishing in Homer, helicopter rides to glaciers in Talkeetna, plane rides over Denali, salmon fishing, trout, and a gazillion of other activities. Alaska is quite nice once you get away from Anchorage.

Plus the equipment is not as expensive as people here seem to believe if you have the time and approach it as a hobby for years. The market for high end vintage bikes is horribly depreciated (or delightfully if you are a buyer). It doesn't take much to turn one of them puppies into a reliable tourer; 700c/135mm rear conversion (and the related decent set of touring wheels), sealed ball bearings bottom bracket and headset, and you are most of the way there.

Originally Posted by mev
3. Is there a market with people temporarily stationed/working/studying in Alaska during the summer as opposed to tourists? i.e. rather than buy/resell they rent your bike during their stay? What is the best way to reach these folks?
Certainly! I currently don't have the time to volunteer at the co-op but I like to evangelize for them and send those folks there. That way they can not just get a quality bike but learn to work on them.
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Old 09-28-23, 12:39 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by abdon
Most with downtube shifters...
I looked through 100 'loaded touring bike' pictures. Two of those bikes had downtube shifters.

Add in the old bike frames and I think you'll be offering a product that so few people want that you won't make (insurance & marketing) expenses.
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Old 09-28-23, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by abdon
My target audience is the tourer that is just vacationing to Alaska without a bike and realizes that he can rent a Miyata 1000 or Trek 720, or a Specialized Expedition, for a day or 3. Maybe all they can squeeze in is a day ride to the glacier and back, maybe a century ride, maybe a few days credit card touring or camping.
We did a tour sort of like that. Rented one-size-fits-most bikes, bikepacking bags strapped on, throw the bikes on the train/bus/in the RV, returned them a couple of daze later. It was ~something~ like this:


The advantages are a smaller, more versatile rental fleet and Alaska Bus Company, Alaska Railroad, Alaska Marine Highway Dayboat and Uber take care of 'shuttle'.

Last edited by tcs; 09-29-23 at 10:28 AM.
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Old 09-28-23, 01:17 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by tcs
I looked through 100 'loaded touring bike' pictures. Two of those bikes had downtube shifters.

Add in the old bike frames and I think you'll be offering a product that so few people want that you won't make (insurance & marketing) expenses.
For starters, bar end shifters on everything.

And as I said a few times, unless I could find a service that soaks up insurance like Turo does for cars or Airbnb does for rooms, it would not be feasible.

Also it seems like folks are hung up on how this is too niche to be a viable self sustaining business. It is not meant to be a self sustaining business. It would be a side gig leveraging my existing infrastructure.

Judging from personal experience, on just about any of my bike-less vacations I would have jumped at the opportunity for a short tour if I had access to a decent bike. Heck a century, or a metric century would have been awesome. I figure that I cannot be the only one.

Last edited by abdon; 09-28-23 at 01:24 PM.
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Old 09-29-23, 10:44 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by abdon
It is not meant to be a self-sustaining business.
So, a service you provide as a monetized hobby, and your losses (expenses not covered by rental fees) charged against your real retirement income for tax purposes?
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Old 09-29-23, 05:37 PM
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Originally Posted by tcs
So, a service you provide as a monetized hobby, and your losses (expenses not covered by rental fees) charged against your real retirement income for tax purposes?
​​Let me put it this way; one of my hobbies has always been to monetize my hobbies. I'm a full time systems engineer and still find time to monetize my orchard, selling plants, and foraging for fun and profit. Looking at my tally between that and other stuff I'm $3,965 for the year. That is the tally after expenses.

That may not sound like much but it adds to my hobby money. Once I retire I'll have more time on my hand to enjoy my hobbies, including making money with them. Why? Because I like doing that.

It is not like I would retire and then decide to spend $20k on a fleet of rental bikes and miscellaneous stuff. I'm still years away from it; if I decide to play with this I would accumulate the bikes overtime. How? Well from my hobby money.

So no, it would not affect my retirement money. If I wanted an extra $3k for this I would just double the number of apple trees I graft for sale. I plan on having a very busy retirement.
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